On February 5, the Times published an op-ed by global-tourism reporter Rosie Spinks under the headline, “Who Says It’s Not Safe to Travel to China?” The article, an argument against Trump’s restrictions on flights from China, took the point of view that the real problem with the virus was that it was promoting hate against Chinese people and hurting the travel industry.
The same intellectual reflex motivated politicians such as New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and his health commissioner, Oxiris Barbot, to spend February and part of March dismissing the pandemic. They urged New Yorkers to disregard any fears about the virus and attend the Chinese New Year celebrations and parade in New York’s Chinatown. House speaker Nancy Pelosi did the same thing while promoting the Chinese New Year festivities held in her native San Francisco’s Chinatown. In retrospect, such advocacy is hard to defend given the likelihood that the virus was already starting to spread. But at the time, the looming danger wasn’t yet clear, so the political needs of the moment took precedence.
Meanwhile, on January 31, the Washington Post published an op-ed by former Harvard professor David Ropeik that sought to dismiss fears about the impending pandemic as a figment of our collective imagination, mocking the notion of a “global health emergency.” A few days, later the Post ran another opinion piece by a pair of academics under the headline “Why we should be wary of an aggressive government response to coronavirus,” which claimed fears about the pandemic were merely an invitation to “harsh measures” that would “scapegoat marginalized populations.”